A Cheektowaga man charged with damaging three statues at St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in Cheektowaga has been found mentally incompetent to stand trial.
Michael Taylor, 32, who was reading aloud from a Bible when found by police, will be detained in a mental institution for up to a year. But Taylor could be released sooner, to face his criminal charge, if doctors determine he is no longer incapacitated, according to a judge’s order this week.
Two psychiatrists testified Taylor was competent to stand trial, but a third psychiatrist who examined him disagreed and said a trial now “would be a farce.”
The judge, who said he observed Taylor closely during a two-day hearing, agreed he was not mentally competent.
Taylor was arrested on a charge of second-degree criminal mischief after police accused him of chiseling the faces off the statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and also toppling a statue of St. Joseph from its pedestal and shattering it in September 2011.
Frank Bybel, Taylor’s defense lawyer, sought a competency hearing before Erie County Judge Michael F. Pietruszka and arranged for the third psychiatrist to testify. Bybel said he did not believe Taylor could assist in his own defense.
Bybel said in the hearing that Taylor wants to testify at a trial, without knowing in advance what he will say, because his words “will come from Jesus or the Holy Spirit speaking through him.”
Bybel said he has been unable to discuss the criminal proceeding with Taylor in a realistic, rational manner.
Dr. Evelyn Coggins, who saw Taylor three times and testified he was competent, described him as “pleasant and kind and cooperative” and able to accurately quote scriptures.
Taylor rejected a plea bargain because he wants to take his chance in court, Coggins said during questioning by Assistant Erie County District Attorney Paul E. Bonanno.
“He thought there was a chance he could be convicted,” she said. “He had an excellent understanding of his legal situation. He had religious preoccupations that were outside the norm. They were pretty fixed – but not bizarre.”
The judge said he watched Taylor closely during the two-day hearing in March.
“The defendant sat almost motionless at the defense table for the duration of the hearing, staring forward, not reacting to the proceedings occurring around him,” Pietruszka noted in his written order.
“The defendant also did not interact with his counsel at any time during the hearing,” Pietruszka added. “There was none of the usual conversation or the passing of notes or any other interaction usually observed between counsel and client during a hearing. The defendant appeared disinterested in the hearing and did not participate in it at all. The defendant’s demeanor, which demonstrated a lack of concern, participation or even interest in the testimony and proceedings, is suggestive of mental impairment.”
Taylor was examined separately by Coggins and Dr. Michael R. Cummings, two University at Buffalo psychiatrists who serve as consultants for Erie County Forensic Mental Health Services. Both found that he suffered from a psychotic disorder but was not incapacitated.
Dr. Brian S. Joseph, however, found Taylor not to be competent.
“I think it’s patently obvious he can’t go forward meaningfully in the [court] process,” Joseph testified, noting that Taylor has no job, no money, no marriage or home anymore.
But he does have a religious preoccupation, Joseph testified.
Taylor felt he was justified in damaging the statues, Joseph said, because he felt they promoted idolatry. Taylor believes he is “religiously vindicated by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and does not need to participate in the legal proceeding in any way,” Joseph said. “Now that’s a delusion.“
Joseph recommended that Taylor be admitted somewhere where he can be given medication, even if against his wishes.
He has been in the Erie County Holding Center since his arrest.
Rev. David Borowiak, pastor at St. Philip’s, said the statues have been repaired.